Last updated: 27 November 2017

We prioritize research questions based on how well they allow us to make progress against the following two goals:

  1. Better understand wild-animal suffering;
  2. Identify viable policies to reduce this suffering.

This is an ambitious research agenda. Our team currently doesn’t have the resources to work on all of these questions. Therefore, each researcher has identified a promising subfield to explore over the next 12 – 24 months. Learn more about our individual research plans:

If you’d like to support our project by doing research, reach out to us: info@was-research.org

Note: This agenda is not an exhaustive list of all relevant wild-animal suffering research questions. It is a reflection of our current focus. The agenda will be updated regularly to reflect our progress and thinking on the most promising topics of exploration.  

Biology

Animal Welfare Science

Metrics of Suffering

  • What are the best ways of dealing with the methodological issues with assessing chronic stress?
  • What are effective metrics to use to compare animal suffering? (e.g., cortisol levels? death rate?)
  • Which potential indicators of welfare and suffering in wild animals are the most reliable and cost-effective?
  • Which species can we study the welfare of and expect that the results are generalizable to other species?

Physical welfare

  • Which types of animals experience the most suffering?
  • What are the most common causes of mortality and how painful are they?
  • To what extent does non-fatal injury affect wild animal well-being?
  • How much moral consideration should we give to larval or juvenile animals, and how should we consider their suffering in relation to adult animals?
  • How much suffering is caused by predation, starvation, dehydration, parasitism, disease, etc.?
  • Which stimuli are painful for invertebrates?
  • See Georgia Ray’s individual research plan

Psychological welfare

  • How often do wild animals experience chronic stress?
  • How often is acute stress a sign of poor welfare? (This seems likely to require both empirical and philosophical work.)
  • How much does psychological distress — i.e. fear, stress, loss — contribute to the suffering of wild animals?
  • Which species experience mental illness? What are the rates?

Neurobiology

  • A review of considerations of sentience in invertebrates.
  • Which experimentally verifiable metrics seem to correspond to ability to suffer?
  • Are there any especially good metrics to use as rules of thumb for the above? (Examples: neuron count, ability to learn from novel stimuli, etc)
  • To what extent does brain size correspond to suffering-like behaviors? Is this true even among phylogenetically related animals? (E.g., is the behavior of a tuna very different from the behavior of a minnow, or that of a goose from that of a bushtit?)

Evolutionary Biology

  • Can we draw inferences from life history strategies about the welfare of wild animals?
  • What do reproductive value models indicate about the trade-off between reproduction and survivorship? What inferences can we draw about the welfare of r-strategists?
  • What do evolutionary games tell us about population dynamics, survivorship and reproductive strategies?
  • What do evolutionary game models imply for individual welfare and well-being? .

Population Dynamics

  • What do long-run trends in population dynamics tell us about insect abundance on agricultural and urban land?
  • What can theoretical population models tell us about shifts in the populations of the most common species?
  • What does the dilution effect imply for the prevalence of disease and parasitism from human intervention in habitats?
  • An assessment of the feasibility of nonhuman animal population growth regulation as an intervention.

Ecology

Humanity’s Impact on Wild-Animal Suffering (WAS)

  • What is the net impact of ocean acidification and climate change on global phyto- / zooplankton abundance?
  • How do mild and severe eutrophication affect aquatic-animal populations (fish, zooplankton, nematodes)?
  • An analysis of the effects of climate change on insect abundance.
  • Which biomes have higher net primary productivity? Which have higher wild animal populations?
  • Do tree farms have higher net primary productivity than native forests? How do animal populations compare between tree farms and native forests?
  • An analysis of the causal factors, such as weather fluctuations and resource competition, governing the population dynamics of ecosystems.
  • What is the net impact of crop cultivation on wild animals?
  • What is the net impact of pasture grazing on wild animals?
  • See Persis Eskander’s individual research plan

Wildlife Management

  • In which ways are wild animals already managed by human activities?
  • In which ways are wild animal populations already managed by human activities?
  • How do human actions indirectly interfere with the lives of wild animals e.g., translocation, introduced species etc.?
  • How do human actions directly (but not with the goal of improving welfare) interfere in the lives of wild animals?
  • Are existing wild animal management methods net positive or negative?

Wildlife Management Interventions

Economics

Welfare Economics

  • How does economic development impact wild-animal suffering?
  • How might welfare economics be applicable in considering the welfare of animals within ecosystems?
  • Can we derive metrics of wild-animal welfare from welfare economics?
  • Can we develop policies in support of wild-animal welfare based on lessons learnt in welfare economics?

Social Research

Academic Field Growth

  • Can conservation biology lead to net positive results for wild animals?
  • Is welfare biology tractable as a field of study? If so, how can we establish it?
  • How could conservation biologists (or other groups) be motivated to consider wild animal welfare?
  • See Ozy Brennan’s Creating Welfare Biology Research Proposal

Social Movement Growth

  • In which situations do people value wild-animal welfare?
  • What were the most persuasive factors for convincing WAS advocates to care about WAS?
  • Which groups could effectively influence wild animal suffering? (E.g.: politicians, farmers, biologists, conservation organizations?)
  • What can we learn from related social movements about growth?

Cause Area Crossover

  • How does global poverty reduction affect wild-animal suffering?
  • How does reducing the risk of human extinction affect wild-animal suffering?
  • How does reducing the risk of astronomical suffering in the long-term future affect wild-animal suffering?
  • How does the long-term future affect wild-animal suffering? What do different scenarios of a long-term future suggest for wild-animal suffering?
  • How might the development of artificial intelligence affect wild-animal suffering?
  • What are the effects of global catastrophic risks on wild-animal suffering? How can this inform existential risk prioritization work?
  • What are the implications of veg*ism and anti-factory farm advocacy on wild-animal suffering?
  • How does reducing, halting or reversing the effects of climate change affect wild-animal suffering?
  • Should wild-animal suffering be considered a global priority by effective altruists?